Running in Lockdown

I last posted here in mid-March, and in the relatively short time since then the world has changed beyond recognition. At that time I’d just run the Golden Fleece Circuit as part of my preparation for the Highland Fling race, my main target for spring. Not long afterwards we were in lockdown and everything was cancelled. One by one the events I was planning to take part in over the spring and summer fell like dominos: the Daffodil Dash, the Helmsley 10K, the Vale of York 10, the York & District clubs summer 10K league, the Fling, the Windermere Marathon, Race to the Castle, Endure 24… right up until July. I don’t have anything in the diary until the Hardmoors Farndale Marathon in August now. But who knows whether life will be back to anything approaching normal even by then? It was all totally understandable, but so disappointing.

Look, I realise this is very much a first world problem and I have such a lot to be grateful for. As far as I know I’m healthy, and so are all my loved ones. I’m still working (mostly from home) and not being laid off or furloughed. As a self-employed landscaper, my husband is struggling to work at the moment, but we can manage. I have friends in foreign countries who are properly locked down and not even able to leave the house at the moment, but we can still take our state-sanctioned outdoor exercise every day (thank God!). And yet… I found that not being able to run where I like, or run with other people, or take part in any events left a big hole in my life. Running makes a massive difference to my mental wellbeing, and I know that many other people feel the same.

So when we found ourselves in lockdown I was properly fed up to start with. It was a couple of weeks before Endure was cancelled, so at first I re-jigged my training schedule to lead up to that; even though I knew it probably wouldn’t happen I pretended it would to try and stay motivated. But deep down I felt there was no point doing any training, because what was I even training for? I was also eating too much cake and drinking too much wine, which made me not sleep very well, and that certainly didn’t help my mood. Something clearly had to change before I couldn’t fit into my clothes. So I decided to do something I’ve never done before – train for a 10K! This may sound surprising, as I’ve run many 10Ks in the past; but I’ve never specifically trained for one before. I’ve always done them just for fun.

Years ago, when I started taking running a bit more seriously than just jogging to lose half a stone (my original goal!) I had three road times that I thought I’d like to achieve; a sub four hour marathon, a sub 1:50 half and a sub 50 minute 10K. I managed to achieve the first two, but never the last. The closest I came was 50:26 at the Leeds Abbey Dash in 2016. After that I started doing mostly ultra training, so not much speed work. As I can’t really do long or hilly runs at the moment, improving my pace is at least something I can focus on. The Leeds 10K in July isn’t cancelled yet, so I might even enter that if it goes ahead. I doubt I’ll ever break 50 minutes now, but hey ho, I’ll have a go! So I’m doing a couple of speed sessions a week from a sub 50 10K plan I found on the UK Athletics website and I feel a lot better for having a new goal. We have an airfield in our village with a public footpath alongside it, which has a perfect flat, Tarmac surface for intervals – almost like a track!

I’m still doing a longer run at the weekend, and I’m really enjoying discovering local trail routes I never knew about until I recently bought an Ordnance Survey Explorer map of our area. I’m also improving my map reading skills, which are pretty much non-existent!

The other thing that’s been keeping me going is that the instructor at my regular circuit training group, Liam from Courage Fitness, has been sending us home workouts via WhatsApp twice a week. These are really good (very testing!), and at the end of each one we have a challenge to do, for which we get points and have a league table to keep us entertained. At the moment I’m surprised to be in second place. Apparently I’m not brilliant at anything, but am consistently average! So with extra strength training and more cake (but less wine now), I’ll probably come out of lockdown fatter but fitter. Also, unable to see where I’m going as I can’t get a haircut!

Hope everyone is coping OK with the restrictions. Hopefully things will start to regain some sort of normality by summer. Stay strong, folks!

(Rainbow courtesy of my friend Nicola!)

Race Review – Golden Fleece Circuit 2020

I love running ultras, but preparing for them properly does involve doing quite a few long training runs, which can sometimes be a bit boring. So I love it when I can find an event to enter that’s about the same length as the long run I need to do on that weekend. It’s far more interesting to run a new route with other people than to just go out and plug away by myself. Last weekend’s Golden Fleece Circuit was a great opportunity to combine some Highland Fling training with a good day out.

I heard about the Fleece last year, but unfortunately only when it was already full – a good sign! So I made sure to get in sharpish this year. It’s based in the lovely village of South Cave in East Yorkshire, and is organised by the Scouts there. Apparently it was created in memory of a chap called Bob Gunby, a keen walker and scouter who passed away in 2010. What a lovely, lasting memorial that also raises money for the scouts. The Circuit winds its way on mixed terrain through the southern end of the Yorkshire Wolds, with a choice of 15 or 27.5 mile options. I obviously plumped for the longer one! I was slightly nervous about it as the route isn’t marked and I’m a bit navigationally challenged, but printed off the map and route description and hoped for the best. I even printed out the description in large print so I could read it without my glasses!

The weather looked quite promising as I left York at 7 am and was forecast to be dry after what seemed like months of wet, windy weather. The event starts and finished at the community centre in the village, near the impressive backdrop of Cave Castle. There was plenty of parking, both at the venue and on nearby streets. Registration was very fast; we didn’t get a pin-on number, but a laminated card to get punched at the checkpoints.

I wasn’t sure what the ratio of runners to walkers would be, but I think there were probably more runners. It was nice to say hello to a couple of people I knew as I queued for the toilet. We could probably have done with more than three portable loos at the start for 500 people. Luckily I managed to get in just before the start – others were not so lucky!

A hooter sounded and we set off bang on time at 8.30 am. I had no aim other than to get round, spend time on my feet and enjoy the day. I thought it might take me about five hours, but didn’t mind if it was more. The first few miles were quite easy and mostly flat trail, so a nice warm-up.

From about six miles in the course was more undulating, but nothing too taxing. There were nine checkpoints along the route, six of which had refreshments. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so had brought a couple of cereal bars and gels, but needn’t have bothered; there was a great range of sweet and savoury snacks, and at various points I had sausage rolls, a tuna sandwich, scones, cookies, lemon drizzle cake and some fabulous date and walnut loaf. Possibly the only event ever where I’ve consumed more calories than I expended! I did pass on the spicy chicken wings though…

At about seven miles the short and long routes split, so runners were a bit more strung out after that. I could still see people ahead and behind though, and was fine with that. I trotted along, walking up the steep bits and even taking a few photos. The scenery was fantastic. The Yorkshire Wolds don’t seem to be as popular or famous as the Dales, so are often overlooked by tourists, but I think they’re just as stunning.

From about halfway I began to have a few issues with navigation. A couple of times I got to junctions and wasn’t sure which way to go, so had to wait for someone to catch me up! Yes, I had the map and route details with me, but as I wasn’t sure where I was it was easier to wait for someone who knew where they were going. Lazy of me really! I got the impression lots of the participants had done the circuit before, sometimes several times, and I could understand why.

I eventually fell in with a lovely group from local club Pocklington Runners (one of whom had the route on her fancy watch) and ran about the last 10K with them. They were so friendly and chilled, and we spent the last few miles (which had a couple of steep hills) run/walking, chatting and taking photos of each other. I had a great time!

The last mile or so of the route was a lovely, long downhill, then through the village to the finish back at the community hall.

At the end there was more food (hot and cold) and drinks. We were also awarded with a certificate showing our time and a fab sew-on patch that made me feel like I was back in the Girl Guides! My time was 5:25, but would probably have been slightly quicker if I’d had better knowledge of the route. I came 62nd out of 149 people who completed the long route – not that it was important. 268 people completed the shorter route. The results don’t differentiate between runners and walkers. I imagine a lot of people did some of each. I’d definitely do this event again. It only cost £16 to enter so was great value. And next time I’ll know where I’m going!

I’m now on week 14 of my 20 week Highland Fling training plan. It’s a cutback week, so I don’t have any big runs to do this weekend. I’ll still be going my midweek circuits class though, as I think it’s definitely helping me to become stronger. And I love it! I’m also really looking forward to going to the première of the Hardmoors film Always Moving Forward in Helmsley on Sunday evening and catching up with a few running friends. Then I’ve got a big three weeks of training coming up before I start my three week taper. I can’t believe the Fling is only six weeks away now! I’m slightly nervous that events I’ve entered in the spring and summer might get called off due to the coronavirus outbreak, but trying to stay positive and carry on as normal. Fingers crossed!

 

 

Goals for 2020 and Endurancelife Northumberland

How’s your new running year going? I’ve had quite a hectic start to 2020 with house renovations continuing and a busy time at work, as well as fitting in training. First world problems, hey? I’m not complaining!

After the Nottingham Christmas Marathon I realised my legs were really tired from all the long events (and associated training) I did last year, so over the Christmas holidays I basically ran for fun and ate/rested a lot. By new year I was feeling a lot more energised and ready to start training for the Highland Fling in April, which is my main spring goal. I’m currently on week 12 of my usual 20 week ultra plan and feeling OK, and I’ve done a couple of fun events recently. Firstly the Temple Newsam Ten last month, which I’ve done three times now and really love as a way of getting going again after the festive break. It’s ten miles of good, hilly training. They do a really good long-sleeved t-shirt too, which is really handy for winter training and this year was the brightest shade of pink I’ve ever seen!

Then a couple of weeks ago I did the No Ego Challenge head torch run at Dalby Forest, which I did last year and is five miles of dark, very hilly fun. Last year it rained, but this year the weather was pretty perfect, cold and dry.

 

Last weekend I ran Endurancelife Northumberland. I love Endurancelife events; they’re not cheap but are really well organised and supported, with a choice of distances: 10K, half/full marathon or ultra. Last year I did the ultra at Northumberland as I wanted the UTMB points, but this year I ran the marathon as training for the Highland Fling.

What a difference a year makes, weather-wise! Last year we ran in brilliant sunshine on one of the warmest February days on record. This year it was like a totally different event with lots of rain, hail, mud, water and a brutal head wind in the second half. Even the sand was more difficult this year, soft and energy-sapping rather than firm and easy.

Obviously the scenery was still as beautiful as ever, but I must admit I was pretty pleased to finish. A great training exercise though!

I have a few more events planned before the Highland Fling:

The Golden Fleece Circuit – a low-key, local (but very popular) 27 mile run/walk event at East Cave on 7th March. It isn’t signed, so I’ll probably get lost!

The Daffodil Dash at Temple Newsam at the end of Mach. I’ve done this a couple of times before and it’s a great training event with a choice of distances – I’m doing the marathon. Always a great goody bag too!

The Helmsley 10K on Easter Sunday. A really fun, hilly off-road event that I did last year. You get an Easter egg and a mug at the end!

I’ve entered our summer club league of 10K evening races, the York and District Road Race League. I love this, but only managed once race out of the series last year, as the others were either all too close to long events I was doing, or I was on holiday. Must try harder this year!

The Vale of York 10 (miles). This is the weekend before the Fling, when I really shouldn’t be running ten miles, but I can’t resist as it’s in my home village and a few friends from our circuits class there are also doing it. I’ll just have to take it very steady!

Speaking of circuits, I’ve been going to a weekly class for some time now and think it’s really starting to help my running. I feel stronger than before, but although I’m a lot better at planking and burpees than I used to be, I still don’t seem to be very good at press ups. Must keep trying. It’s hard work but good fun, and our instructor (Liam of Courage Fitness) mixes things up every week to keep it interesting. I’ve also made a few friends there (running and non-running) and would really miss it if I didn’t go now. We’re using the school hall for now, but will be back outside when the evenings get a bit lighter.

 

Looking further ahead this year, I’ve also entered the new Race to the Castle event in June and Endure 24 (as a solo) in July. I’m not sure if I’ve taken on too much with these two events being only a month apart, and after the Highland Fling too. I might have to defer one (luckily I can do that with either), so will see how I feel and decide nearer the time. I don’t have a particular goal for autumn yet, so will have to think of something.

Hope your new running year is going well!

 

 

 

Running Review of the Year 2019

I’m not the sort of person who obsessively logs all the miles I run – I’m not on Strava and I hardly ever download stuff onto Garmin Connect – and that’s partly why I like to have a bit of a running review at the end of each year, thinking about how things went and how they might have been better. I’ve entered more running events this year than ever before, but a lot of them were just as training exercises.

It was only when I was compiling a list of these that I suddenly realised that, of the 22 times I’ve run marathon distance or further, seven of them have been this year; and it would have been eight if I’d completed the Hardmoors 50 too. That wasn’t planned, but it’s quite good to know I’ve got to the point where I can hack that sort of volume without getting injured. So here (as some sort of record for me as much as anything else) is the list for this year, with links to reviews where I’ve done them – although I’ve been so busy studying for my sports massage therapy qualification and renovating a house that I haven’t blogged as much as I’d like recently.

January

Yorkshire Cross Country Championships.  I was a bit scared to enter this, but actually loved it.

Temple Newsam Ten (miles).  Third time I’ve done this, a fun event for the new year.

No Ego Challenge (head torch run), Dalby Forest.  First dark run I’ve ever done, very rainy but fun.

February

Hardmoors Saltburn Marathon.  Fabulous coastal trail, very muddy, but a great day.

Harewood House Half.  Great hill training!

Endurancelife Northumberland.   A beautiful coastal trail ultra. Review here.

March

Hardmoors 50 (DNF).  A horrible day!  Unfinished business… Review here.

Daffodil Dash Half, Temple Newsam. Always a spring favourite.

April

Vale of York 10 (miles). My home village race, so I have to do it!

Helmsley 10K.  Fab trail race with an Easter egg at the end.

Pocklington 10K.  The only one of our summer 10K series I managed, I was so busy.

May

North Lincolnshire Half.  First road half I’ve done for ages – a great PB course.

Hardmoors Wainstones Marathon. Tough but fabulous!

Ravenscar Half.  One of my favourite races, spectacular coastal scenery.

Hardmoors 110 Relay.  Part of a team of four, great fun.

June

Top of the Wolds 10K.  Massive hill in this road race, excellent cake.

The Wall.  70 miles across the north of England. Amazing, loved it! Review here.

July

Conquer the Forest Half, Dalby Forest.  Beautiful woodland trails.

Yorkshire Wolds Half.  A lovely undulating road event – great mug!

August

Hardmoors Farndale Marathon. My favourite Hardmoors event so far, beautiful course.

The Princess Challenge (17 miles).  Where else can you run in a tiara and tutu?!

September

Hardmoors 60.  Probably the hardest run I’ve ever done – but very pleased to have done it! Review here.

November

Tadcaster 10 (miles).  A bit of fun after taking it easy for a while. Review here.

Nottingham Christmas Marathon.  First road marathon for ages. Sooo cold and foggy! Review here.

There are two other things I’ve done this year and really enjoyed. In February I attended a trail running training day with Kim and Jayson Cavill, two amazing Yorkshire runners and coaches. This was held at the Yorkshire Cycle Hub in beautiful Fryupdale, which I can really recommend if you’re in the area. Great café there too! Since the summer I’ve also been attending a weekly circuit training group. I feel very lucky that Courage Fitness set this up in my home village, and I really think it’s helped me to get a bit stronger over the last few months. I’ll certainly be keeping that up in the new year, and also hope to investigate a local yoga for runners and cyclists class I’ve heard about.

So, what’s in store for 2020? (Am I just old, or can anyone else not believe it’s actually 2020?!) I’m repeating the Temple Newsam Ten, No Ego Challenge head torch run, Endurancelife Northumberland and Vale of York 10 because I love them all. In March I’m doing the Golden Fleece Circuit – a local event I’ve discovered that will be a good training run. My main event of the spring is the Highland Fling, which I’m really excited about. This race covers the first 53 miles of the West Highland Way and is so popular there’s a ballot for entry. In May I have the Windermere Marathon, then in June it’s Race to the Castle, a new event from Threshold Events. They also organise Race to the Stones, which I did a couple of years ago and really loved. In July I’m planning to take on what might be my biggest challenge yet, doing Endure 24 solo; basically I’ll see howmany five mile laps I can do in 24 hours! In August I can’t resist Hardmoors Farndale again. At the end of August it’s UTMB, the holy gail of trail running. I have the points to enter either the OCC or the CCC, and the ballot is open from now until early January. I applied for entry to the OCC last year and didn’t get in, so that means that if I enter this year I’ll have double the chance of getting in – the London Marathon folk could learn a thing or two from this system! In September I have the Hardmoors Fryupdale marathon, which I didn’t manage to get into this year, but am getting a place this year in return for marshalling at the Wainstones event in May. That’s it for now!

I feel very lucky that I’ve done so many fabulous runs this year and not had any injuries – touch wood. At my age I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to keep doing this sort of thing. Hopefully for a while yet! Over the Christmas holidays I’m going to be running for fun and would like to get some hills in as I haven’t done much hilly running over the last couple of months. Then I’ll knuckle down to some Highland Fling training in January.

I hope you all have a great Christmas. Happy running in 2020!

 

Race Review – Nottingham Christmas Marathon 2019

I really have no idea what possessed me to enter a road marathon this autumn. After the hellish heat of last year’s London Marathon I vowed never to do another one; but then a few of my friends did them in the spring and I must have got a touch of FOMO! Anyway, for no particular reason I found myself heading for the Nottingham Christmas Marathon last weekend.

My training for this event hadn’t exactly been ideal. For a start, I’d done hardly any road running in the last eighteen months. I’d done lots of long trail running though and had plenty of miles in my legs, so at least the distance shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, this would be the tenth time this year I’d run marathon distance or further! After the Hardmoors 60 in September I had a week off and then thought I’d get stuck into some road training. My legs begged to differ though, so I had an easy week after that. Then I caught a horrible cold thing that hung around for about three weeks and wouldn’t let me do anything that involved breathing heavily (like interval training!) without coughing. So I’d been playing catch-up with the schedule ever since. I knew I wasn’t in anything like PB shape when race day came, but thought I’d just go off with the four hour pacer and see how long I could hang on – which I guessed wouldn’t be very long!

The marathon was part of a weekend of running events taking place at the National Water Sports Centre at Holme Pierrepoint Country Park, with the 10K and marathon on the Saturday and the half marathon, 5K and one mile fun run on the Sunday. The routes all consist of the corresponding number of three mile laps of a Tarmac path round a lake, so the marathon is about 8¾ laps. I set off from York at about 7 am on Saturday as the sun rose on what looked like it would be a beautiful day… until I got about a mile from the venue, when a thick, freezing fog descended! Ah well, I go better in the cold anyway. I arrived quite early and had no problem parking (although it cost a fiver!), but apparently things got a bit fraught later in the day and on Sunday. The 10K was already underway, with the marathon due to start at 10.15 on the opposite side of the lake, so I thought I’d better leave the car in plenty of time, especially as the fog meant we couldn’t actually see that far!

A arrow sign at the lakeside indicated it was 500m to the marathon start, so we obviously all followed it. Quite a long way. Obviously a lot further than 500m. When we eventually got to the start, it transpired that some wag had turned the sign round, so we’d all gone the wrong (long) way round the lake. Hilarious! I made it just in time. At least I’d had a good warm up! The start was slightly delayed as a result, but I know some people (including a friend I was supposed to be meeting) didn’t make it before we’d set off. Someone was speaking through a megaphone, but although I was only a short distance away it was so muffled I couldn’t make anything out. Suddenly we were away!

I trotted off with the four hour pacer and chatted to a couple of people en route. Runners had been encouraged to dress in festive attire, but very few seem to have bothered – although one woman had made a top effort in a full-length Christmas cracker costume! I made a gesture with a festive scrunchie and some tiny clip-on antlers.

Running a lapped course is not the most exciting thing in the world, but I was OK with that. In fact, I thought it might be good practice for next year’s Endure 24. There was one refreshment point at the place where we went over the timing strip at the end of every lap (i.e. every three miles) with water, electrolyte drink and snacks such as cake, chocolate and cheesy biscuits. We were handed paper cups (good) that had about an inch of water in them. At first I thought it would be good to have more, then I realised the water was so cold it was giving me brain freeze!

The pacer was a little erratic. Four hour pace is 9:09, and although you can’t expect people to get it spot on every time, my mile splits varied between 8:45 and 9:15. I was OK for about three laps, then as we got to about ten miles my legs began to feel really tired for some reason, and my enthusiasm/mojo/will to live started to drain away. I wasn’t feeling cold in my base layer, tights and gloves, but the fog made things a bit damp and depressing. You couldn’t see very far so there wasn’t really anything to interest or distract you. Spectator support was understandably a bit thin on the ground, although the event marshals were great at encouraging everyone on.

Trotting along, I realised why I hadn’t done a road marathon for so long; they are actually very hard work, in a different way to an ultra. In an ultra you work hard, but there’s variety; you run a bit, walk uphill, stop at checkpoints etc, and this is what I’ve become used to over the last couple of years. In a road marathon there’s no let up – they are relentless! So the problem here was me rather than the event. With 16 miles still to go, finishing was probably going to be more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Luckily my friend Katie (aka RunYoung50) who lives nearby had come out to support me, and seeing her popping up from time to time really gave me a lift. She’d even made a special sign to encourage me – what a star!

I decided to take my foot off the gas a bit and just try to enjoy it. I began chatting to people and also made an unscheduled loo stop at one point. There were portable loos at two points on the course, which was very handy! I’d never done a lapped event before, and it was interesting to see all aspects of the race as much faster runners raced past me and I passed some of the slower runners. My own laps gradually became a bit slower too, and my pony tail slowly transformed into what felt like a ball of tangled wool.

I was pleased to finish, although not particularly pleased with my finish time of 4:23, which is almost 30 minutes off my PB. There were only four FV55 runners in the field but I was the first, so I guess that’s something!

At the end we were presented with a fabulous snowflake design medal and a lovely felt Christmas stocking with a little Cadbury selection box inside. T-shirts cost an extra £15 and could be ordered in advance or bought on the day. I decided to get one as I can now wear it for running at Christmas every year!

Afterwards I wanted to treat Katie to a hot chocolate as she’d been so lovely and waited to see me finish, but unfortunately the onsite café had run out of milk! Seemed a bit of an oversight on a day when hundreds of extra people were visiting. I put on some warm clothes and got a recovery burger from the outside catering van while I waited for my friend to run her last lap. This closed about half an hour later, before everyone had finished running. If we’d been in the middle of a town this wouldn’t really be a problem, but as the venue is miles from anywhere else it seemed a shame that the last people to finish couldn’t get any food or a hot drink after being in the freezing cold for hours.

I seem to have done quite a bit of moaning in this review, but the event itself was fine. On a better weather day I’m sure it would have been more enjoyable, the parking issues weren’t the fault of the race organisers, and it’s certainly a good course to aim for a PB if you don’t mind the laps. I was initially disappointed with my time, but later realised it was probably because I hadn’t done enough specific training. If I ever want to achieve another Good for Age time I’ll have to knuckle down and do more of the right kind of preparation. But I’m not sure I want it that much when there are so many fab trail races to run!

So that’s my racing done until 2020. I’ve had a great year of running and taken part in some brilliant events. Time for a bit of fun running now until I start training for the Highland Fling.

I think this sign could definitely come in handy at Endure 24 next summer by the way…